BETWEEN THE DUSK OF TIME AND SPACE
“ I listen to classical music all the time. I believe that the most important element in music is the sur-the note-the shruthi. And once you listen to it, you are immersedin its nuances and its dfferentrealms.When you think of the different parts of the composition the lyrical flow seems seamless-it has no form its expanse is like a colour field a memory that is flowing just like a river. When I began abstraction this was the surge that I witnessed. It was about the moods and momentum that was created within the web ofalaaps and antaras.And it became a journey that filled me with the silence of the depths of melody and rhythm. ”
SUDIP ROY TO UMA NAIR
What happens when an artist like Sudip Roy who has created realist figurative and monumental works turns to the matrix of moody momentuousness? You espie the grooves and limpid passages of the intentions of the mind in a celebratory set of works that read like fragments from time. Capacious sweeps of colour, drawing simultaneously on inert perceptions with a light hand and the dulcet design of colour's vapid vacuous tonality these works are as if Sudip adds a footnote to the history of abandoning, realism and merging into the magic of Abstract Expressionism.
Colour in its tonal sweep, an expanse of colour that makes curiously inviting tonal graphs of sites frequenting a certain perception that continues to coax abstraction from almost mesmeric moody moments that have been stirred from inner recesses of themagical manipulations of time's tenets. The swish and sweep of the pliant brush makes you think of ,land and sea, where landscapesmirror not justthe brink of an epiphany but the rites of time in life's lived syncopations.
Sometimes the work is maximal in intent but sometimes it is minimal and it seems as if Sudip creates pictorial haiku by giving and using the in an internalized memory perhaps of open pages of books of photography, some of which he alters, or even the terrain of intrepid inertness that he has seen either from a n imaginaryview or just in the cavernous recesses of his own mind.
`For me abstraction is a struggle that has been surging over the past 20 years,' says Sudip,`there has been an inner growth of wanting to break free and detach from all outward and recognizable designs and leitmotifs. This is another journey for me, it is the journey of my own inner mind, it is my anxieties –my suffering –my struggles -a personal and private essencethat emanates itself in bursts of colour.'
One day years ago,Sudip Roy showed me a series of incandescent abstract works that delved intothe tenets of time and space, where the light could be more raking. Hehad created a series of monumental coloured time zones that called to mind both painting and the process; here were works that equally symbolized “the window” and “the mirror” of art. For an artist who transits between the figurative world and the zones of abstraction he was presenting us a paradigm ofreflecting—embodying the questioning self-consciousness .
After doing works of realism and impressionism when asked whether abstraction is about experience or about the moment Roy says: “ A journey is about the first step ,but when I was a student my professor said: Whatever journey you begin with –the realism always slowly takes you towards abstraction.I make a painting because Im not able to speak about it.”
When told that abstraction for Sudip is more about depth and the luminosity of night and day Sudip answers: When I work on abstracts I am looking at what is within.it is what is in my heart and it is a journey that is driven by deep mystery.If you look at the journey of abstraction it is only a century old.”
His journey embraces fragmentation as well as a mystic mooring.There are distinct pathways in his works.The works have no titles but each work is symbolized by the time of day.Sudip affirms: The exploration into formlessness is what drives me.Its like classical music,there is colour and formlessness and it dwells in the fragmented zones.So when I worked I try to create a watercolour transparency with the application of oil.Its like when the master Turner created those seascapes he tried to get the simple satin finish of water in the dawn and dusk of time he created.”
In many ways his journey spoke of many things, of how many dcades ago, Gerhard Richter found a painterly philosopher’s stone. Like Jackson Pollock before him, he discovered something that had been in painting all along, always overlooked or discounted. Just as Pollock used the drip to meld process and product, Richter “found” and used the smudge and the blur to ravish the eye, creating works of psychic and physical power.
Here in his terrain of asbtractions Sudip Roy recreatesa series of incandescentl works that seemed to sweep the moody riverines of colour-they were havens of a hunted valley and often just merged into the fractional zones ofskids and overlays of contrasting color, wet-on-wet paint that was at once complex but strangely , supple, and subtle.
When asked if he creates only abstracts over a period of time,he explains: “ It depends on my mood,I do drawings when I feel the need but when I do abstraction it depends on the search within on my feelings and over the past two years I have been doing a lot of these large canvasses.They are full of turbulence and trials and tribulations.The darkened recesses you see are my inner questions.”
Sudip is not the kind of artist who talks a lot about his work-he is a recluse,happy to create in the retstraint of his own islands of thought. But he had named the works according to the gravity of the tides of time-dawn and dusk became parameters of time,and he unveiled the fact that he observes his process as much as he controls it, adding inscrutability, surprise, strangeness, and surprise to his work. He created marbled sweeps and sluices of high-key and low key colour, even as he dissolved certain blends of flecked, blazing paint.
Standing next to Sudip’s abstract studies leaves you with nodoubtthat heis one of the best painters of his time. Probablytrue - but the reasons have more to do with the way we look at art history than with the way we look, or ought to look, at painting. Sudiphas never been the kind of artist who lent himself to ''big'' historical formulations. No theories have lingered around his large interiorabstractions , no manifestos announced hisnew journey. But it is clear that his abstract studies lead to theemergence of a significant artistic oeuvre that stood its own testimony in his new leanings.
For people who found novel it was curious to see that his emblazoned landscapes had time zones given to them.So the idea of diurnal timings became the titles of the works he created with tenored swathes ofcolour zones. Sudip has always been anaturallyelusive figure. He could be admired, of course - and he was. And it set you thinking-the realist and impressionist master setting on an abstract terrain was a development that had to be looked at as a new chapter. In India abstraction had seen many journeys with the mendicant Gaitonde, and the symbolist J.Swaminathan and then the geometry of S.H.Raza. But for Sudip the ideation of the landscapewas held to be the ultimate tenorof something distinctive and differential something born of a –deep and resonantambition –a personalhistorical necessity or some combination of the two . Can an artist traverse different genres in his life of multiple journeys? Why not? All of these thoughtsreminds us that the orthodoxies of art history and its many theories and fallacies can be as blinding as the orthodoxies of any other faith or aesthetic leanings.
Critics in the West state emphatically that abstraction, though it continues to flourish among us, no longer commands the kind of exclusive or sectarian loyalty it once did. We now know that its energies, too, are capable of flagging, and thus of degenerating into empty rhetoric. We are therefore more open to lively alternatives. Time has altered our perspective on understanding abstraction too because it straddles many mediums and sensibilities. Through the 1900’s and the 2000’s we havelived through a modernperiod in which the role of colour in painting has elevated to a place of radical priority, we are in a better position to appreciate the absolute mastery that abstraction canbringto this venerable pictorial resource. Sudipis, without question, a brilliantdeeply evocative colorist. And his tryst with colour field abstraction has been one that reflected the invention and virtuosity he lavished upon the pictorial uses of color in his journey of large expansive canvasses.
As we can see in the bulk of these large paintings, Sudip says he has within his own memory theparallels of the British and European Masters - withTurner, Monet andMatisse, especially in the degree of radical concentration and intensity of colourative cohesion that heachieved in the large canvasses. Sudip’s style, hasalways been remarkable for its clarity, simplicity and economy of technique and spatial distribution. The large expansive canvassesseemed to be constructed of nothing but few , very flat areas of muted, sombre color contained in free-form shapes that fitted as snugly - and as inevitably - into the picture surface as theunending imagery of landscape that meets our eyes when we look down at the terra firma as an aircraft swirls overhead before it lands. It seems at times as if the impulse inherent in this tendency could scarcely be carried further without lapsing into abstraction, which - had it occurred - would have endangered the whole tone and spirit of a style that depended upon some minimal element of representation for its survival.
Yet a closer look at the landscapes suggests that in his evolution in the abstraction tenure - he increased the weight and intensity of the color saturating the surface. Into the deployment of color were thus subsumed some of the pictorial functions formerly sustained by drawing. It is this, above all, that gives Sudip’s paintings their special quality. What looks, at first glance, like a radical simplification of expression turns out on further acquaintance to be a new and deeper complexity. It harbors depths that cannot be quickly encompassed.
The atmosphere emanating from the display of the landscaped abstractions, then, is one of soothing relaxation. The headlong, frenetic urgency to come up with something radically different is not present. Instead there is a pervasive self-confidence and sense of authority. Sudipknows what he isdoing. This encourages us to breathe and observe more easily and enjoy these works without a feeling of desperation.
When we look at the colour tonalities we know that we cannot know the formlessness of a fragment unless we know the whole.the example of Picasso is a candid example of the integral importance of the abstract journey.Sudip recalls: Looking at the works by Picasso in his museum became the turning point for me.Studying Picasso is a learning experience everything in his life was like a pilgrimage of great depth.For me Picasso’s works is akin to tapasya.And I feel that my abstraction is born of melancholy as well as poetry.”
Authoritative self-confidence, of course, is a quality that emboldens the artist to follow the esthetic bent of his own choosing without adhering to one particular school. Thus, this is an exploration in a different direction, exploring imminent and intricately fashioneddifferent abstract conceits. This makes for discriminating diversity and demonstrates as well that there is no predominant trend among abstractionists.
Another hallmark of thejourney in abstractionis the supplicant brushstroke, reminding us that often abstract painting is simply about painting and its techniques. Its presence is especially notable in the nearly chromatic orchestrationsas well as in the large canvases that are voluptuously luscious and lyrical and illustrate that painting for painting's sake is a most valid endeavor.
Non-associational elements such as proportion, balance, scale, contrast and density are major preoccupations of many of these works, as they have been with much of modern abstract art. There is also an occasional tendency to introduce an image that looks vaguely representational.
The great essayist Hilton Kramer wrote :
“ In art, every authentic style comprehends a distinctive point of view. It exalts certain emotions, and upholds certain attitudes. It makes a judgment about the medium, and a judgment about life. Upon its emergence it proffers a revision of existing ideas about art, and thus - either by implication or by direct assault - represents a challenge to the prevailing orthodoxies. Every genuine change of style may therefore be seen as a barometer of changes greater than itself. It signals a shift in the life of the culture - in the whole complex of ideas, emotions and dispositions that at any given moment governs our outlook on art and experience.”
He wrote reams on abstraction and its many journeys and clearly statedthatabstraction spokevolumes in its silent ripples- and still speaks - to something profound in the modern psyche, but exactly what this is has remained something of a mystery. He was accurate when he said that no one has ever adequately explained it. It is no use invoking the Zeitgeist, for that leaves us with the problem of explaining why it is that the Zeitgeist favors one artistic impulse over another. It is no use, either, invoking conspiracy theories, for the history of the subject doesn't lend itself to them. Contrary to the view that one continues to hear upheld among people who dislike abstract art, it wasn't the museums that imposed abstraction on the public - the truth is, museums came late to abstraction, and embraced it reluctantly - but abstraction that imposed itself on the museums. Some deeper reason for its success must be looked for. In India abstraction hasn’t quite entered any distinctive journey after the passing away of Gaitonde and Swaminathan. One hopes that it tender deeper sojourns that will distill the embers of creativity.
“Years ago when I used to listen to classical music my friends used to ask me what do you find in it? I couldn’t answer them.But now when I listen to classical music I know I am able to find colour and form through the major and minor notes.But now when I look at my works I find there are many chromatic tonalities and that perhaps is what frames and shapes my works. Abstraction for me was about freedom ,to explore formlessness and depth after having perfected in both realist as well as impressionist modes ,abstraction becomes an odyssey of tonalities and moods and mystic depths.”
Sudip Roy seems to have been excited by the prospect of a passably pure, toughly modest aestheticism that jettisoned the traditions of realism . His sojourn inabstraction beganin 1986 after finishing from college andhe was making sprightly geometric and free-form collages and reliefs, often composed by whims of chance—for example, shapes in colored paper dropped onto sheets of white paper and glued down more or less where they fell,he says he didn’t have money/spaceto keep the works in those days . However looking at these works it is clear that hetakes comfort and delight in carefully coalescing , morning-fresh ways of creating. Abstraction, for Sudip , is akin to finding his own haven ,it is an unraveling ofthe melancholia within, a meandering flow of the prism ofan innate character.
And so be it.